Hitching a ride in Porsche 959 Sport, Bugatti EB110 headed to auction

Hitching a ride in Porsche 959 Sport, Bugatti EB110 headed to auction
Santa Monica-based Gooding & Co. is auctioning this 1988 Porsche 959 Sport. It has a twin-turbocharged flat six-cylinder engine that makes 540 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, and an integrated roll cage. (Gooding & Co.)

They were the supercar poster children of the 1980s and 1990s: Porsche's groundbreaking 959 and Bugatti's EB110 graced countless magazine covers and bedroom walls, alongside other now-classics like the Lamborghini Countach and Diablo and the Ferrari F40.

These machines are now finding their way to the auction block, with demand from a younger set of car collectors pushing values higher. Two pristine examples will go up for sale in the next few days in Arizona, at the annual Scottsdale classic car auctions.

RM Auctions will be offering a 1993 Bugatti EB110 at a presale estimate of $575,000 to $775,000. Meanwhile, Santa Monica-based Gooding and Co. will have a rare Porsche 959 Sport up for auction with a presale estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million.

Prior to the cars being shipped off to Arizona, we grabbed a ride in each one to fulfill a childhood fantasy and see how these cars have held up over the years.

Porsche 959 Sport
From 1987 to 1988, Porsche built 284 street-legal 959s to comply with off-road rallying regulations. The cars had to be all-wheel drive and use turbocharged engines, mainstays in today's supercar world, but rare features in the 1980s.

Regulations also dictated that the engine be no larger than 2.85 liters, tiny by supercar standards of any era. Yet Porsche threw its full engineering weight at the project and came up with a twin-turbocharged flat six-cylinder engine that made 450 horsepower.

It pushed this through a six-speed manual transmission through an all-wheel-drive system far more sophisticated than anything on the market at the time. This ethos continued with the 959's lightweight composite body, and a suspension system with variable height adjust.

The model Gooding & Co. is selling takes things one step further. Of the 284 models Porsche built, just 29 were the more aggressive Sport models (the regular cars are referred to as Komfort models).

The Sport bolted on a more conventional coil-over suspension, welded in a full roll cage, and stripped out the air conditioning, leather seats and other amenities, all in the name of weight savings. Eleven Sports were painted white, and the other 18 painted red.

This particular Sport got yet another upgrade in 2002, when the original owner of the car took it back to Porsche to have the factory install a Stage II system. This swapped in new turbos and intercoolers, and retuned and reprogrammed the engine for 540 total horsepower.

Out on the road with Gooding & Co.'s founder and president, David Gooding, at the wheel, the 959 was an exercise in civility. Despite its age, and that it's the more aggressive type of 959, the car was immensely comfortable to ride in.

"My Mercedes SUV has a rougher ride than this car," Gooding said as the car glided over a gnarled road in Santa Monica. "It's kind of amazing; I feel like I could get in this car and drive it to New York."

As the road opened up, Gooding got on the gas and worked through the six gears. The 959 surged forward with the full complement of the sweet-sounding engine behind us. Despite the turbos working hard, it was hard to hear their trademark whir as they spooled up.

"The sound is incredible," Gooding said with a grin. "That flat six, pumping out 540 horsepower, it's completely exhilarating."

That was true even from the passenger seat. The car felt responsive, nimble and connected to the road.

And approachable, especially for a supercar creeping up on 30 years old. This sets it apart from its Italian contemporaries from the era.

"I've driven other supercars from the 1980s, and while raw and intense and exciting, they don't have the sophistication of this car," Gooding said. "You really feel like you're immediately in something beautifully crafted, designed and engineered."

The rarity of this car, and the recent rise in classic Porsche values in general, has been good to the 959 market. In December 2010, this car was worth an estimated $462,000. Four years later, the value stands at $1.2 million, according to Hagertys, a company that insures and values classic cars.

Gooding & Co. will auction the 959 Sport on Saturday.

Bugatti EB110


Though today's Bugatti is known for its dramatic Veyron supercar, designed and engineered with the backing of parent company Volkswagen Group, the EB110 hearkens from the pre-VW era.

In the 1980s, an Italian Ferrari dealer resurrected the Bugatti name, which had been dormant since 1952. For four years, his team toiled and tinkered, looking to build something worthy of a nameplate that had dominated pre-war racing and capable of taking on the Porsche 959s, Ferrari F40s and Lamborghini Diablos of the era.

In 1991, the EB110 was unveiled in Paris to celebrate the 110th birthday of Bugatti's original founder, Ettore Bugatti. It packed a 550-horsepower, 3.5-liter, quadruple-turbocharged V-12 engine, all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. The body was largely aluminum, the two doors opened upward like a true supercar should, and top speed was claimed to be 213 mph.

Over the next four years, 139 versions of the EB110 were built before the outfit went broke amid a global recession.

The 1993 model RM Auctions hopes to sell in Arizona is just the sixth EB110 ever built. Originally dark green, but now sporting a brilliant blue candy coat of paint, the car has had just one owner, who put about 5,000 miles on the car.

RM car specialist Alexander Weaver took us for a ride in the EB110 before it was shipped off to Arizona. Like the Porsche 959, the Bugatti feels approachable despite being built at a time when supercars and ease-of-use were mutually exclusive.

"It's a sensational car to drive," Weaver said during our drive. "The sequential turbos just give you so much torque and such a great powerband throughout the RPM range."

As he leaned on the throttle, the Bugatti accelerated smoothly, with the sounds of the four turbos balancing the sharp voice of the small V-12 revving high behind us. The car weighs around 3,500 pounds -- heavy for a sports car but hundreds of pounds lighter than the current Bugatti Veyron.

"It's the ultimate grand touring car," Weaver said.

Though not as compliant as the Porsche 959, the EB110's ride is plenty comfortable for long trips. This sets it apart from something like a Ferrari F40.

"Coming after the F40, this car had all the power and an even higher top speed, with a lot more creature comforts -- the radio, the AC -- things the F40 had but they weren't focused on during the development of that car," Weaver said.

Despite their power and exclusivity, values of the EB110 haven't risen as fast as their peers. In December 2010, a car like this one was worth an average of $485,000. By December 2014, that number had risen to $607,000, according to Hagertys. A 25% increase in four years is nothing to sneeze at, but it's well below the jump the Porsche 959 or Ferrari F40 had over the same period.

This means bargain hunters looking to park a rare, old-school supercar may be able to pick up this car at a bit of a bargain, before values start to skyrocket. RM Auctions will offer this EB110 during its two-day sale in Arizona on Thursday and Friday.